Wednesday, November 25, 2009

2009 11 25. Wednesday.

Had another meeting of the Communications Skills Group this morning. Just Rachel and I up in her room. She shared about her recent experiences with pancha-karma (an Ayurvedic holistic healing process) and I shared (in a rambling fashion) a bit more details about my childhood, young adult years, family dynamics, relationships and some of my experiences with Gene's groups between 2000 and 2009. My experiences with Gene's groups and some other similar groups could fill a whole book with all kinds of juicy stories.

After the compost work I met for the 2nd time with the 1st year biotech master's students about the research project they want to do on the compost. Turns out they want to focus their work on how EM can help the compost process. EM stands for "Effective Microorganisms". You can google it for more details. EM is a proprietary mix of beneficial microorganisms that are supposedly effective for lots of different cleaning and health applications. The westerners use it quite a bit here at the ashram for all kinds of things. There's a lot of people around the world who swear by EM, but there isn't a lot of scientific data on it. We tried using it in our compost, but it didn't seem to do much, it costs money and it was a pain to make. So we stopped using it. The students will contact me next week to present the details of how they'll focus their research.

Monday, November 23, 2009

2009 11 23. Monday.

While working at the compost area, I got a call from one of the Biotech College teachers asking me if I could meet with some 1st year Masters students about a compost project. I'm already coordinating with some 4th year undergrad students on a short term project, but the Masters students can do a longer, more in-depth project. Cool. I said "Sure." and the 4 Indian female students came by after compost. Unless I'm missing something, it appears that almost all of the biotech students are female. I showed them how we make the compost and then we shared about some project ideas. They want to focus on studying the microbial population in the compost pile. They're going to do a literature search and see if there are any universities that have active compost research programs. I bet a researcher could spend a lifetime studying the microbes in a compost pile! So much microbial activity going on with so many variables to play with. They said they'll contact me soon to explore the project in more detail. Should be interesting.

OK Dear Readers, get ready for a lot more whining, moaning and complaining to be appearing in the next two months in this sorry excuse for blog. The room next to me is controlled by the Indian Accommodation Office. Amma is coming soon so that means I'll have a parade of Indian families staying there. There's a little bit of sound insulation between the rooms but not much. A family stayed there the past 2 days and, typical of many Indians, the adults spent 20 minutes in the morning loudly coughing and hacking. In the West, a cup of coffee is our morning ritual. In India its very accurately imitating a cat trying to bring up a particularly large and recalcitrant hairball. Maybe its some kind of Ayurveda thing. I don't know. Imagine trying to do a little morning meditation with that racket happening. Fun. If there are any Indian readers of this blog perhaps you can illuminate the reasoning behind this prevalent and popular morning ritual.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

2009 11 22. Sunday,

This morning I'm walking back to my room after breakfast and one of the younger western guys comes up to me and says frantically "No one showed up for garbage collection! Can you help?" I say "Sure. Just let me use the bathroom first and I'll be right back." He then goes and asks some other western guys nearby if they can help. They say they have to finish the job they're working on first. He then says "That can wait! I need help now." The other guys seem a little uncomfortable but reiterate that they need to finish their job. He gets flustered and walks away. As I'm watching the scene I clearly see a lot of my own reactive patterns in the guy. And, at the same time, I'm thinking "Don't worry. The job will get done. Just relax and let Amma's grace help out." We do the garbage collection and it turns out to be pretty light. The guy comments on how surprisingly little trash there is. Just the two of us get the job done easily. The incident is a very good reminder for me to always stay relaxed and trust in Amma's grace even if things look difficult.

Yesterday an attractive young Italian woman (Clarice) helped us at the compost area. After the compost work we were chatting and she mentioned that she was also fluent in French. I recited the only sentence I know in French which is "Je ne mange ni viande ni poisson." which translates to "I don't eat meat or fish." I needed to say this when I visited France to make sure I got vegetarian food. Clarice then steps away to wash her hands and Mukhunda asks me to repeat the sentence in French. I do so and Mukhunda repeats it back a few times. Keep in mind that I haven't told Mukhunda what it means. So when Clarice comes back Mukhunda looks at her sincerely and says "Je ne mange ni viande ni poisson." He says it pretty well. Clarice smiles and Mukhunda asks what the sentence means. Before Clarice can respond I quickly say "It means 'Will you marry me?'." Mukhunda gets a horrified look on his face and says "Oh my gosh! Sorry! Sorry!" His expression is priceless! Keep in mind that Mukhunda is in yellow robes, has taken a vow of lifelong celibacy and has been a monk for about 15 years. I start laughing and quickly say "No! No. I'm just teasing!" Then I give the correct translation. Clarice is smiling throughout the whole scene and Mukhunda remains embarrassed for a little while.

Later that evening I'm thinking maybe my little joke didn't feel good for Mukhunda, so I resolve to apologize to him the next day. So today after compost I take Mukhunda aside and offer the apology. Mukhunda just starts laughing and says "No! No. It was a good joke. I like when people tease me. Amma teases me all the time in front of everyone. I am not a serious man. Please don't worry. It was funny." As he speaks he pats me on the shoulder and back. I felt better. The more I know him the more I really like him and consider him a great role model. He's almost always in a good humor even when he has to work non-stop for days on end.

Amma will be coming back in about 10 days and lots more people are showing up here. For the past 2 months the room next to mine has been empty but now they're putting people in there. The room is part of the Indian accommodation so Indian families are often there. I usually have to remind them about quiet hours in the morning and evening. My main goal is to try and be cool and calm when I remind them to be quiet. It takes a lot of mindfulness to keep myself centered when I talk to them. Usually when it gets to the point that I need to talk to them I've got a little emotional charge going that I need to not identify with. Not easy!

I now seem to be becoming more and more sensitive to my negative mind states. When something triggers me now, even something small, I really feel it a lot. Of necessity, I've done LOTS of practice on not judging myself, so it doesn't feel too bad. I feel it strongly, but there's also (usually) a good amount of spaciousness around it. The spaciousness is a relaxed feeling/knowing that is psychologically larger than the negative mind state. The negative mind states are just strong and clear reminders to look clearly at the old patterns that create the triggers. On some level it feels good that I'm looking more closely at the old, dysfunctional programming in my mind. Don't know if its changing, but I'm definitely looking at it carefully.

Related to that, I'm also now doing more of what I call "self-soothing" practice. My old predominant mode was a feeling of low-level, free floating anxiety. Probably a combination of my genes and the tense environment that strongly predominated in my childhood home. So when I'm walking, eating, etc. around and especially when I meditate, I'll often focus on guiding myself toward calm states of being. Takes lots of practice but feels good. It seems that certain contemplations and beneficial thought patterns are effective at sending calming signals from my neo-cortex and frontal lobes to my deeper emotional (limbic) brain circuitry. Be interesting to see if someone has done some fMRI research on this phenomenon of "self-soothing" to see how it actually works.

I spoke to my Dad a few days ago to check in and let him know I'm doing fine. We chatted and he said he's reading my ashram blog. After our conversation I got to thinking that my family, through this blog, is learning much more about my inner world than they ever knew before. Usually when I talk with family members on the phone we share the usual pleasantries and not much more. We do get into some deeper discussions but pretty rarely. So here in this blog they can get a lot of deeper glimpses into my thought patterns, values, passions, quirks, egoic tendencies . . . and general weirdness ( smile ).

On a related note here's a message for my family: You're very welcome to come visit me here in India any time!Its pretty easy to get here and its a nice place to hang out. I'll be coming back to the states once in a while, but if you're feeling adventurous, come visit here. If you come when Amma is not here, it'll be quiet and peaceful. If you come when She's here, they'll be lots more people and you'll have a much more interesting time. I recommend coming when She's here to get the full experience. And you can help me throw cow dung onto the compost piles! ( smile )

Saturday, November 21, 2009

2009 11 21. Saturday.

Had another meeting of the Communication Skills Group; just Rachel and I. Nicolas is still traveling. Someone told me he went from Sai Baba's ashram to Tiruvanamilai, the city in the state of Tamil Nadu where the holy mountain Arunanchula is. Arunanchula is believed by many to be the form of Lord Shiva on Earth. I went there back in 2006 and did circumambulations around the mountain, which is one of the traditional ways of worshiping Shiva and receiving His blessings. Ramana Maharshi, a very well known Hindu Advaita sage, lived there for many years until he left his body in 1950. Since then his ashram has been a popular spiritual destination for many westerners. Some westerners advertise their spiritual teachings there in the tradition of Ramana Maharshi. When I was there I saw about 3 different notices for advaita satsangs (spiritual teachings) being offered by different westerners. A wonderful mix of cultures!

Rachel and I shared what's been happening for each of us. Not much happening for me emotionally. Things continue to be kind of quiet and peaceful. The usual little things trigger me but nothing major. Afterwards we spoke about the importance of not making assumptions and examining assumptions in our friendships and close relationships. We both shared examples of how assumptions can create difficulties in relationships. Rachel has been practicing a lot with the Byron Katie inquiry process called "The Work". It's a very powerful and simple process for directly questioning any thoughts that are in argument with reality. Byron Katie emphasizes that when we argue with reality we lose. . . always. Her first book is called "Loving What Is" which is a good summary of her core message. Check out for details on the process. Good stuff. Byron Katie had a very sudden and fascinating spiritual awakening in a California home for the mentally ill. A great story.

Had a very nice talk with Yuri at lunch. We were just chatting about various things and he shared some difficult challenges he had during his recent visit to his family. Turns out he has some difficult family dynamics very similar to the ones in my family. Lots of striking congruences. As he shared about the difficulties I totally understood and I shared about the same things in my family. As either one shared the other would just nod their head in agreement and understanding. Yuri and I have lots in common and a similar outlook on life. And we're both crazy about the watery rice!

To my family: I'm happy to share the details of the "family dynamics" mentioned above. Just sign a standard "hold harmless and full legal indemnification" form, get it notarized and fax it to me. . . (smile!) After I get all the forms I'll reveal all the juicy details! Or at least my version of the story which will likely be short on accuracy but definitely highly entertaining. ( grin )

Thursday, November 19, 2009

2009 11 19. Thursday.

Yesterday the fake American sadhu came up to me speaking some kind of Vedantic Vaishnava babbling. Just for fun, to everything he said I replied "Everything is Krishna." This got him flustered (my intention) and he regaled me with more Vedantic babbling about how saying "Everything is Krishna." is not correct. I just replied with a shrug and said "Everything is Krishna." to his increasing frustration (and my increasing amusement). Well, this morning he walked by me rolling his eyes and waving his arms saying "Everything is compost! Everything is compost!" I laughed! The guy is totally loopy and sometimes brilliant.

After breakfast I went to the computer room to catch up on some emails and compost research. Swami Jnanamrita was there also with a lot of small Amma pictures on the screen (I think one of his jobs is to help with the Amma website). The ashram doctor was also there checking his email. After a while the ashram doctor pulls Swami J into a very lively and abstract discussion about the nature of enlightenment. It went on for a while and it was quite interesting to listen to. I was rooting for Swami J, of course. The doctor was pretty insistent about his points and it seemed to me that Swami J thought the dialog was becoming too intellectual and abstract. After a while Swami J kind of stopped responding to the doctor and the dialog fizzled out. During their dialog my egoistic mind was filled with all kinds of totally brilliant and insightful advaitic things I could say in response to their points, but I definitely knew to keep my mouth shut. People already suspect I'm a fool. Why open my mouth and prove them right? Few things I enjoy more than a good lively discussion on advaita.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

2009 11 18. Wednesday.

Today was my second full day of teaching compost to the students at the nearby Amma grade school. Went well. Pretty much the same as the first day. I estimate I spoke to about 400 students total both days. Wonderful that all those kids now know all about the benefits of composting. I told them to talk to their parents about maybe starting some small compost piles at their homes.

On both days I took one of the school buses back to the ashram. Definitely brought back some very distant memories of riding in a bus overflowing with screaming kids jumping around, hitting each other and generally acting just the way I did at that age. A group of young boys near me took delight in asking me my age, where I live, if I'm married, etc. All my short answers elicited gales of giggles and laughter.

Young Boy (smiling like he knows I'm going to walk right into his clever trap): "Where do you live?"

Me: "At Amma's ashram."

Group of Young Boys: (howls of loud laughter and punching each other)

(same scene repeated with each question, including the bonus of seeing the young girls rolling their eyes at the boy's behavior.)

Oh well, perhaps in small town India being easily amused has its advantages. The same all over the world.

I was riding in the back and the ancient bus had almost no suspension. Every time we went over a bump I was hurled skyward only to slam back into the very thinly padded seat. Ouch. Where's my chiropractor? That's one way to get the old karma pounded out of me. The boys loved it, of course. More howls of laughter and throwing of celebratory punches after each big bump.

Had a nice talk with Norma today. She's a young British lady who has done some interesting work with anaerobic composting. All the compost we do currently is aerobic. Norma has some experiments she wants to do to see if anaerobic composting can be more efficient than what we're now doing. We shared about how to do the experiments and what equipment we need.

After speaking with Norma, I had the second meeting with the 4th year Biotech college students to discuss the possible experiments of using cellulosic and lignin enzymes to help the woodchips in the compost breakdown faster.

Because I'm a science junkie, I always love the idea of doing experiments to see how things really work under different conditions. I think that's one reason why I'm drawn to spiritual practice. All the scriptures and gurus say if you do the practices properly, you'll get the result (and enlightenment is a pretty darn nifty result in my book) so I'm doing the experiment on myself to see what happens. So far the experimental results are "Mind full of putrid egoisitc crap - 100%. Enlightenment - Zilch". Oh well. Rome wasn't burned in a day. Maybe a Zen Master would say that Zilch and Enlightenment are the same... Maybe I'm a Zilch Master.

"Does a dog have Buddha nature? Zilch. Does Advait have Buddha nature? (more howls of laughter)"

For those interested, definitely check out episodes 140 and 141 of the "Buddhist Geeks" podcast. They interview Dr. James Austin, another neuro-scientist who's done extensive research on mediation and all its positive effects on the brain. Bottom line: Start meditating if you're not already doing it.

Wow. Check out: Very cool article. Full human brain simulation not far down the road? Maybe simulated enlightenment soon after. If they can simulate my brain maybe I can get all the simulated Amma hugs I want. This line of research will get very interesting when they start to connect these simulated brains to real sensors and actuators. Watch out. You heard it here first, folks. Our ipods will become "I" pods. I'm now putting my bets on a sooner rather than later Singularity. Maybe one of the main jobs of God-incarnations like Amma and Sai Baba is to help guide us as we create more and more powerful computers, artificial intelligences, biotechnology and nano-technology. Maybe now we're like adolescents with some really powerful and potentially dangerous tools. Definitely want Mom and Dad around watching carefully and intervening as needed when we're playing with such tools. Maybe they'll be something like a spiritual Singularity to go along with the technological Singularity. Sure hope so!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

2009 11 17. Tuesday.

There's a young French woman (Surya Devi) who teaches at a nearby Amma grade school. Its a big school with about 1,800 students. Surya Devi is very interested in environmental issues and she invited me to give talks to many of the classes about the compost project. There's a small compost area they're just starting behind the school and we brought the various materials needed to demonstrate compost. Each hour a new group of students arrived and I showed them how to make compost by mixing food waste, woodchips and cow dung. I talked about why its so good for the environment and how compost works in nature. For the most part they listened pretty well. The boys would laugh and joke around some and the girls were very quiet and attentive. I got the usual response of a loud "Eewww!" when I showed them the cow dung that's an important part of proper composting. I liked that part. For a few seconds I had their full attention.

Surya Devi, with her blond hair, really stands out. I think she's the only westerner who teaches at the school. She was a student at this school for a number of years and speaks very fluent Malayalam. Tomorrow I'll do the same thing all day for other students. Feels wonderful to get the students aware of composting and how valuable it is for the environment. I'm definitely not a natural at working with kids. I always have to stretch myself to do it well. It can be kind of draining for me, but today it went pretty well. Especially nice when some of the kids who had real genuine interest hung around afterwards to ask more questions. For the younger kids I tried to be more expressive and funny (hopefully not too silly) while keeping the topic simple and basic. For the older kids I asked them lots of questions so they could demonstrate how much they know about biology.

This evening I had an interesting talk with Yathran. While Amma's been away in Europe and Asia he's been traveling around India visiting different saints and gurus. It was totally wonderful to hear him share about his experiences with them. I'm always fascinated to hear people share their spiritual experiences. He used to live at Sai Baba's big ashram in Andra Pradesh. For many years there's been a big controversy surrounding Sai Baba. Some people allege that he had sex with some young boys. Yathran is a smart and no-nonsense guy so it was interesting to talk with him about how he reconciles the controversy with his feeling that Sai Baba is a true incarnation of God. He spoke about it with refreshing thoughtfulness and subtlety. Based on some research and inner guidance, he came to the conclusion that Sai Baba did what He did to help remove very negative old karma from the boys and to remove old karma from the world. And he accepts that many other people came to a different conclusion. Numerous other highly respected spiritual masters (including Amma) have said that Sai Baba is a true incarnation of God and all of his actions only benefit His disciples and the world.

My conclusion: I don't know any details about the controversy, so I can't say one way or another. However, Sai Baba's followers (just like Amma's followers) are doing a truly amazing amount of selfless, effective work to help uplift the poor and needy and humanity in general. They've built countless schools, hospitals, clinics, homes, etc to help all of society. And Sai Baba has inspired millions to lead a more compassionate and conscious life. I've really felt that in the different Sai Baba groups I've been to.

Yathran asked me not to tell anyone about his travels because, as an official Amma renunciate, he's not supposed to visit other gurus or spiritual teachers without Amma's permission. As you can probably guess, Yathran is not his real name.

On a related note, when looking at the life story of many gurus and avatars, its often the case they'll do very controversial actions in order to test the faith of their disciples. A while back an Amma devotee told me that Amma Herself said that someday She'll be the center of a large controversy which will test the faith of Her followers.

My love and devotion to Amma is so deep I don't think there's anything She could do to shake my faith. Well, maybe there is one thing; I think I would have to leave Amma and the ashram if She ever canceled morning and afternoon chai. I'm willing to suffer for enlightenment, but there are some things no human should have to endure.

Monday, November 16, 2009

2009 11 16. Monday.

A week or so ago I spoke to one of the teachers at the Amma BioTech college about a possible student project involving the compost. He invited me to give a brief talk today to some of the 4th year biotech students about the compost work and some possible projects. One idea I thought of would be to research if there's some natural substance that can help the woodchips break down more quickly in our compost piles. I mentioned all the research currently being done on cellulosic ethanol focused on how to efficiently break down things like corn stalks, etc for ethanol production. Some students came to me after the talk and said they're interested in the project and have some ideas for enzymes which may do the job. Hopefully I'll meet with them soon to get into the details.

After my talk with the students it was lunch time and they were very nice to let me grab some food in the faculty lunch room. They had a whole bag of papadams there! Yum! Papadams are a very tasty crunchy lentil snack. They look like a really big potato chip. Did I mention they're deep fried? The best part of all. The other teachers had to leave for their classes so I was alone in the room finishing my lunch. I had to practice some serious self restraint not to eat a lot more of the papadams. Still had more than my fair share. Greasy, salty and crunchy; a match made in heaven.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

2009 11 14. Saturday.

Had another meeting of the Communications Skills Group (CSG) this morning. Just Rachel and I. We met in her room on the 13th floor of the E building. Gorgeous view of the ocean and countryside. And no mosquitoes! I really miss living there.

When it was my turn I shared about some of the recent small annoyances that have triggered me. A few days ago one of the Indian helpers at the compost area balked at my direction to add more woodchips to the foodwaste. Very confusing and annoying. They must think woodchips are in short supply or something. I need to show them a picture of the huge mountain of woodchips at the big Amma workshop. Also I should show them a picture of the smelly ugly poorly processed piles that didn't have enough woodchips.

Now that I think about it, if you look at it from a particular angle, the woodchip mountain kind of looks like Arunanchula.

Rachel shared about some of things going on with her and we shared about how learning better communication skills will help us both better navigate ashram challenges. Turns out the biggest issue for both of us is reactivity. In difficult situations, my emotions will rise up quickly and take over and I'll react in ways that are non-skillful (to put it mildly). Internally, I try to always sense when a situation could get difficult and remind myself to respond calmly and coolly. Sometime works, often doesn't.

There was nonstop heavy rain this afternoon which made for some seriously miserable compost work. I got soaked to the skin and became cold! Brrr. Can't wait for the hot dry season to start. We got the pile finished somehow and boy, the hot chai after wards was especially wonderful!

Just got finished reading an autobiography from the ashram library called "All the Fishes Come Home to Roost" by Rachel Brown. Its about an 8 year old American girl who goes with her parents to a Meher Baba ashram in some backwater grubby Indian town. Its mostly really hilarious. But the young girl gets sent to a nearby Catholic school and the nuns are a group of seriously sadistic child haters. Ouch. One of the nuns almost kills one of the young boys at the school. Kind of frightening in some parts but mostly very funny. Recommended reading to get a taste of India. Or a taste of some wacky westerners in the middle of wacky India.

I recently listened to some very interesting interviews from the podcast series called "Insights at the Edge". In two separate interviews, the host spoke with Dr. Richard Mendius and Dr. Rick Hanson. They're a team of neuroscience researchers doing cutting edge work on the effect of meditation and mindfulness practice on the brain. Very fascinating stuff. The bottom line is that even a little bit of daily meditation practice has great benefits for the brain and mind, and this is getting clearly proven using recent brain imaging tools. Definitely worth a listen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

2009 11 11. Wednesday.

Got to the airport at around 6am and had an uneventful flight back to Trivandrum. At the Trivandrum airport they were screening for swine flu. I filled out a form and the mask wearing immigration lady aimed a non-contact thermal probe right between my eyebrows. Zap. Normal temperature. Cool. Then she waved me on. Usual ride back to the ashram; auto-rickshaw to the train station. The auto-rickshaw driver kept begging me for 5 dollars. I told him I didn't have any dollars on me, only rupees. He must have thought I was lying cause he kept pestering me for 5 bucks. Jeez, buddy, give it a rest. I gave him a 20 rupee tip at the train station and he looked at me like I handed him a pile of feces along with news that his whole family perished in a train wreck. Ouch. I scuttled guiltily into the station and got into the ticket line. Glancing outside I saw the poor guy still there, staring at me with a sad expression. Ouch again.

About an hour before the train got to my stop it cleared out, leaving lots of empty benches. Cool. I stretched out on a bench and asked the Indian man nearby to tap me when we got to Kayamkulam. Then I had a wonderful snooze. I felt a gentle tapping on my head. The man smiled and said "Kayamkulam". Thanks! I hopped off and hopped on to an auto-rickshaw and buzzed back to the ashram. Felt great to be back. Looks like the non-stop rain we had for 5 days finally cleared up.

Later that afternoon one of the western admin office guys knocked on my door. He was surprised to see me open the door. He said "Oh! You're here. I thought you checked out." I said I just left for 2 days for my visa travel. He said "OK, I was going to clean the room, but no need to now." I said "Wait! Its no problem. You can clean!" He just smiled and walked away.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

2009 11 10. Tuesday.

Got up around 6am and walked over to the Trivandrum airport and had an uneventful 50 minute flight to Columbo. The Colombo airport is beautiful and fully modern. Quite a contrast to the international airports I've seen in India which are mostly pretty grubby and rundown. The Colombo airport had toilet paper! Wow. You *never* see toilet paper anywhere in India unless you buy it yourself or stay at an ultra-fancy hotel.

I got the usual casual religious questions from the Sri Lankan immigration official. He was quite interested in my story of being raised Catholic, then being a practicing Buddhist for about 10 years (including living in a Vietnamese Zen temple for 3 years) and then meeting Amma. I had to cut it short when the guy behind me started to get impatient. There are lots of westerners who come to Sri Lanka to meditate at one of the many, many Buddhist temples and meditation centers here. There was a really beautiful statue of the Buddha at the airport. I think Sri Lanka is about 70% Buddhist.

Then I went over to the hotel information counters for some hard bargaining. I first said I wanted to take a bus to Negambo. A few days ago another westerner at the ashram told me that Negambo beach is about 30 minutes from the Colombo airport and has some cheap guest houses. The guy said there was no bus to Negambo but I knew there were cause the westerner told me so. I just said "Fine." and started walking away. Then he said he'd give me a nearby guest house room for 1,500 Sri Lankan rupees (about $15) and throw in a free ride there. Staying close to the airport was definitely an advantage cause my flight leaves at 7:30am the next morning. I said "Sold!" Then we hopped into a car and zipped over to the "Crystal Villa" guest house about a 5 minute drive away. On the way he kept telling me the usual price is 2,500 rupees. I think he was trying to make me feel guilty for getting a good bargain. I just ignored him. Sorry, buddy. It ain't working. Go play that guilt trip rap on someone else. The Crystal Villa was pretty nice. The road leading up to it was patrolled with a soldier in full uniform toting a small and very lethal looking machine gun. Right down the road from the Crystal Villa was another much fancier hotel; even had a swimming pool. That was probably the reason for the guard.

My room was spacious and not too many mosquitoes. The shared bathroom, however, was loaded with mosquitoes. Yuch. Seriously annoying later on when I had to take a poop and spend the whole time frantically swatting the little bastards, an evil grin spreading across my face every time I flattened one into a little black and red splotch. Actually, whenever I kill a mosquito, I try to say 3 Om Amritay Swaryay Namaha's to help send it off to a good rebirth. . . somewhere far away. Somewhere I read its good karma to kill a mosquito because that will help it move more quickly to a higher rebirth. I wonder if that logic also applies to Republicans...? ( smile! just teasing, just teasing. Settle down. Now all my Republican friends will leave mean comments on my blog. Oh well, its not easy being a left-wing socialist pinko tree-hugging neo-hippie progressive liberal flower child like me.)

There was a little hole-in-the-wall food stall down the road where I had my lunch. They had a little buffet and I thought the proprietor said everything was vegetarian. Turns out some of the stews had fish. Yuch. I don't like the taste of fish stews. Fresh cooked fresh is wonderful, but fish stews to me have a yucky sour taste, and I had to keep spitting out little bones. I went there again for dinner and was careful to get only the dishes with no fishes, as per my wishes. They had some bread on the buffet line that was really good! Wonderfully chewy with great flavor and great texture. I was very pleasantly surprised. Some of the best bread I've had in a long time. Didn't know Sri Lankans were excellent bakers. Maybe some wayward Italians got shipwrecked here long ago and started some bakeries. The natives were probably overjoyed to eat something besides rice.

Monday, November 9, 2009

2009 11 09. Monday.

At around 6pm, just before I had to leave for my trip to Sri Lanka, it started pouring rain. Pooh! I waited a few moments and it slowed down a little bit. Then I huddled under my umbrella and quickly walked over to the place across the foot bridge to where the auto-rickshaws are and grabbed one and buzzed off to the nearby train station at Karunappaly. I got kind of wet but dried off after a while. My Indian visa expires in 2015 but I have to leave India once every 6 months to keep it current. At the train station I met someone else from the ashram. A pleasant surprise. He's an American from California and was going to Trivandrum same as me. We got there around 10pm and shared an auto-richshaw to the airport. We had a nice time chatting on the ride down. We shared a lot about our experiences of meeting Amma and having Her become our Guru. Always fun to trade Amma stories. His flight was at 3am and mine is at 9:30am, so we said goodbye at the airport and I went to a nearby grungy but cheap guest-house to catch some sleep.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

2009 11 08. Sunday.

They were late bringing the Indian breakfast, so I sent to the western canteen to get some breakfast there. I grabbed some food and sat down with a group of people at a table. I was just enjoying my meal listening to their talk. The man next to me finished his meal and had an extra small banana that he offered to me. Now here at the ashram many westerners like to feed bananas to the elephants. So, as a joke, I put my nose near the banana and said "Let me see if I can grab it with my nose." The man totally didn't get the joke and just looked at me like I was nuts. The New Zealand lady across from me totally got the joke and started laughing loudly. She thought it was just hilarious. I explained the joke to the man and he smiled weakly, not very amused. The lady continued laughing for a few more minutes and we riffed some more on the theme of feeding the elephants, and then chatted about other topics. I finished my breakfast and went over to the Indian line to get a little more and sit quietly by myself. It was interesting to notice that although joking around with the New Zealand lady was fun, it also stirred up my mind. It took me a little while to dissipate the agitated energy created by the laughter and joking around. I kept replaying the scene in my mind. Usual old habits. Incidents like this show me how I feel more centered and at ease when I do less casual socializing and spend more time by myself.

I always enjoy dialogs where I really feel I'm connecting with another person in an honest and safe way. But I'm usually not comfortable with a lot of casual conversation. I think my sensitive nature is a little on edge when I don't know for sure where the other person is at emotionally.

There was a fight in the compost area today. Ouch. I was talking with someone at one end of the compost area after the work was done and we hear a commotion at the other end. I see two of the regular Indian compost helpers (both young men) wrestling and throwing punches. Mukhunda (one of the yellows and a pretty powerful guy), ran over and broke it up. Then there was a shouting match with Mukhunda speaking forcefully and trying to settle them down. Seeing the fight definitely threw me off center. I have a hard time watching any kind of violence, makes me queasy and anxious. I grew up watching violent movies and TV shows and never thought twice about it. Then when I was about 24 or 25 I was watching "The Terminator" movie with some friends and for some reason the violence in that movie really threw me off. From that day on I totally stayed away from violent media. Maybe at that time some part of my brain got to a certain stage of development. During my childhood, there was a lot of shouting and yelling in the house and I think this had the effect of making me emotionally sensitive in some ways. Maybe because of all the totally dysfunctional communication in my childhood home I'm now keenly interested in exploring healthy communication.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

2009 11 07. Saturday.

David does most of his internet surfing from about 11pm to 5am and then he sleeps till about 1pm. He said I could grab his cellular modem in the morning so he put it in a safe place where I could get it. This morning after 6am chai I grabbed it and started downloading podcasts. Oh, boy! I'm in heaven! Feeding my podcast addiction even though I'm here in the middle of rural India. Cool. Actually the major Indian cell companies know all about the many well-off westerners here at the ashram who would love to get internet access in their rooms. So the cell companies early on built cell towers close to the ashram and the westerners love it. They pay a relatively cheap price for slow but manageable internet service with a cellular modem card plugged into their laptops. David's cell card works great even though there's been nonstop rain for the past 3 days.

Today is Saturday which is one of my 'podcast fast' days so I'll have to wait till tomorrow before I can listen to them.

No one told me about the "eastern monsoon" here that starts after the regular monsoon season from June to Sept. Its been raining nonstop for 3 days. Yuch. Place is flooded 6 inches deep in places. Luckily the rain slowed down during composting this afternoon, otherwise it would have been pretty miserable work. Lots of rain means extra cold showers. Brrr!

File this under the "Word to the Wise" category": If you bring a laptop and/or a USB memory stick here to India keep in mind that (based on my direct experience) most computers and memory sticks I've encountered here are infected with viruses and malware. So if you use an unprotected USB memory stick here, plan on it getting infected with some bad viruses unless you are VERY careful and really know how to stay secure. I've got two very good anti-virus programs running and they have saved my butt a number of times. I use Microsoft Security Essentials and Blink Professional from Blink Pro is *highly* recommended. You can get USB sticks that have a "read-only" mode. This is recommended. My Ironkey USB stick has a read-only mode and that has saved me a few times from getting bad viruses.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

2009 11 05. Thursday.

One thing that I've come to rely on here in India is my IronKey secure USB stick. If you plan to do any kind of internet banking or anything like that here in India, I definitely recommend getting an IronKey. Once you understand how to use them properly, they are very, very secure. Check out for all the details. The IronKey allows you to go to any computer and surf the net securely with its own private VPN. It can also store all your website passwords and you can open it in a read-only mode so it can't be written to.

David (who lives a few doors down from me) has a cellular internet card for his PC and he let me install it on my laptop. Cool. Now when he's not using it he said I could use it. Tried it and it seems to work pretty well. Internet is kind of slow but manageable. Gotta keep feeding my internet addiction! I need to do some research on composting issues so having easy access to the net will help with that seva.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

2009 11 04. Wednesday.

Some mice came into my room around 3am and started making some noise, knocking things over and chewing on the banana I had sitting on the counter next to the sink. Grrr! I got very annoyed. After breakfast I got a lid for one of my extra buckets and put my food in there.

Had an Amma dream last night, the first one I've remembered in about 6 months or more. I was walking quickly through a big white house with lots of rooms and stairs, trying to find something. Everything was painted white. At one point I turned left into a bedroom and saw Amma sitting up in a bed with lots of white sheets and She was wearing Her usual bright white saree. I have a vague memory that my sister was also there with Amma; not sure. As soon as I saw Amma, I joyfully and with lots of devotion ran up to Her, sat down beside the bed and took Her hand in mine. I was feeling lots of love and I said "Oh, Amma." a few times. Amma was smiling quietly. After a minute or two Amma seemed to change shape and become misshapen, like She was melting a little bit. Then I started to feel nervous holding Her hand because I started to think it was a mouse that was going to bite me.

Had the 3rd meeting of the Communication Skills Group this morning. Since Nicolas is gone it was just Rachel and I. It went well. We had more time for our extended check-ins which gave us both time to share some deeper issues. I shared about the difficult feelings I had about 2 months ago when I was living next to some Indian ladies who talked loudly during official quiet times. I shared how it was very frustrating for me not to be able to go to sleep or meditate when I wanted. I also shared about the very surprising incident when the Indian lady who was angry with me for asking them to be quiet later apologized and explained about how her mother is partly deaf. Rachel did a wonderful job listening and reflecting back what I shared. I look forward to when Nicolas gets back and he shares about his trip to the Sai Baba ashram in Andra Pradesh.

At dinner David and I were chatting and he mentions he's a drummer. We start talking about favorite bands and it turns out he's a big Led Zeppelin fan just like me (John Bonham, the Led Zep drummer, was fantastic). He tells me about the special way they recorded the drum track for "When The Levee Breaks" to get the echo effect on the bass drum, If you're not familiar with this song, hop onto YouTube and check out the studio version (the live versions aren't as good). The drum track is so amazing. I couldn't get that song out of my head until I fell asleep.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

2009 11 01. Sunday.

Saw a cute scene this morning. One of the cows near my building was laying on its belly with its chin on the ground. On its head a crow was there apparently pecking away at some flies or other bugs on the cow. On the cow's face was a very blissful expression.

I downloaded and installed the new Microsoft free security program (called MSSE). Apparently just in time. I somehow got hit with some viruses and MSSE looked like it was able to clear them out. Spent a good part of the morning trying to get it all cleaned out. Hopefully I was successful! I hate the thought of having some virus on my laptop. MSSE works really well. I definitely recommend downloading and installing it. Really good anti-virus tool.

I was checking the internet news and read a short blurb about how they did the first successful beam test on the repaired LHC. Yay! Hopefully soon it'll get up to full power and we'll start seeing some interesting results. Hey Tim! Keep me posted. My brother Tim is a science junkie like me.

This afternoon I was speaking with Ravan, one of the Indian workers who helps at the compost area. He's been here for about 21 years; since he was about 10 years old. We got to talking about the different Amma swamis he's know for a long time and I told him about my wonderful feelings for Swami J. Ravan shared how he's known Swami J for more than 21 years; way before Swami J was a swami. Ravan said Swami J suffers from a lot of physical problems like stomach pains, back pains, migraines, etc. Ouch. From my interactions with Swami J, he always seems pretty happy and healthy. Ravan also shared how Swami J loves to joke around a lot and has a great sense of humor. A few minutes later Swami J shows up and starts a long conversation with Mukhunda at the other end of the compost area. Interesting coincidence...